Food Respiratory conditions Worker health and wellness Workplace exposures

Hen houses may pose risks to egg-industry workers: report

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Gladstone, MO – Bacterial toxins in hen houses can lead to airway irritation, inflammation and decreased lung function among workers in the egg industry, according to a report from the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply.

Facilitated by the nonprofit organization Center for Food Integrity, the coalition consists of scientists, food manufacturers and others studying housing alternatives for egg-laying hens. Researchers examined data from conventional-cage, enriched-cage and cage-free aviary housing systems over three years on a commercial farm.

Airborne particulate matter in hen houses can end up in workers’ airways, and smaller particles can move deep into their lungs, according to the report, released Aug. 11.

Bacterial toxins and inhalable particle and smaller particle concentrations were significantly higher in the aviary system, in which hens roam free in a building sector, than conventional and enriched systems, in which hens are more confined. The high levels were due to dust-bathing material and manure left on the floor, the report states.

Researchers also noted workers exhibit “extreme body positions” when loading and unloading cages in conventional and enriched systems, herding birds, and gathering eggs on the floor in aviary systems.

The results are preliminary and have not been peer reviewed, the researchers said.